Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gaming Highlights: Memorial Day Weekend 2014 (Saturday)


I am an unabashed fan of Michael Schacht's zoo games... in fact, I find them much more enjoyable and compelling than the more straight forward (and portable) card game they are based on, Coloretto. (For me, Coloretto has always felt as if it was all mechanic and no fun.)

This is only the second time I've managed to get ZooloAquapalooza to the table... and it was a little long but a lot of fun. We not only used the two base games, but also added in:
  • Zooloretto: Exotic
  • Zooloretto: Boss
  • Zooloretto: Big Boss
  • Zooloretto: Iberian Lynx, Grizzly & Octopus
  • Aquaretto: Three Co-worker Tiles
  • Aquaretto: The Trains

The plethora of expansions involved probably reduced some of the tension (with the expanded number of strategic & tactical options) but it made for some really interesting decisions as each of us blazed our own path.

Important safety tip: the first time we played ZooloAquapalooza, we used The Savings Book expansion from Zooloretto. This is a BAD idea when using both games - do not do this!

Braeden chose to focus primarily on building his aquatic zoo in the early- to mid-game, which gave him a good score there but hampered him in the end-game as he was forced to take numerous animals into his pool and barn. Collin went for a more middle-of-the-road strategy, as did I... but I figured out how to get the donation/sponsor engine (from the Boss/Big Boss expansions) working and rode them to a commanding victory.

Monsters Ravage America

Yes, the original Avalon Hill version of the game... which for some of today's young whippersnapper gamers is "old school". But for those of us who cut our gamer teeth on Wooden Ships & Iron Men and Squad Leader, this is actually one of the last gasps of a once-great wargame/board game publisher. (If you want to read the story of the final days, you can check out an excellent Geeklist entitled My Days at the end of Avalon Hill... in which the designer refers to the art design on Monsters Ravage America as "a graphic Chernobyl, and we knew it.")

Braeden & I played two player - which was, as I had remembered it would be, a little weak compared to a four player game. Still, this is "King of Tokyo: The Wargame" - and any time your monster can get hit with missiles and mutate 3 different times is a bonus.  (I had War Spikes, Atomic Breath, & Iron Stomach - what turned out to be a winning combination.)

Other monsters ravage something or other games you might be interested in: Rampage (a very family-friendly dexterity game based on the arcade game) and The Creature That Ate Sheboygan (a chit-wargame/microgame from the long-defunct SPI that could use a fresh development polish & reprint with plastic minis).

I'm already on record as a fan of Monopoly (played correctly, of course) - but if push comes to shove and I have to pick a favorite version to play, this is it. Designed by Rob Daviau (yes, the same guy responsible for Risk: Legacy and the upcoming SeaFall), this is Monopoly reimagined by someone aware of current gaming mechanic technology: individual player "roles" (the Mayor, the Developer, etc.), more variety of building options, and a well-thought-out system of Fortune points (victory points) that makes it much easier to stop the game at whatever point you need to and find an actual legitimate winner.

I freely admit that the DVD "News Flash" portion of the game can become grating (especially when you've played it enough times to have seen each & every arc of news stories at least 3 times), but the random elements for Chance & Community Chest are very nice... and the variable payment system for the new buildings (parks, casinos, restaurants, and piers) is a nifty addition to the game.

Braeden violated Monopoly Wise Trading Rule #1: big properties aren't worth much if you don't have the cash on hand to develop them. So, I traded him the dark blue monopoly for the pink monopoly... and held onto one property of the rest of the groups to choke off any more monopolies from coming into play. It was just a matter of time.

Rogue Agent (solo play)

I'm currently working on a full-blown review of Rogue Agent... and needed to get it "to the table" at least one more time to make sure I wasn't missing something before finalizing my conclusions.

I realized a few things in my four "player" play of the game in Android Mode:

  • I was still missing some of the rules.
  • The game "works" better with 4 players than 3 players... and with 3 players better than 2.
  • I'm really conflicted about this game - there are some things I really like but a couple of plays have fallen flat as a pancake. On the other hand, we've had two other games of Rogue Agent that were nail-biting fun.
The jury is still out - but I have to say I appreciate the helpfulness of the designer & the publisher (Stronghold Games) in trying to answer my questions, both about rules & about design choices.

Look for my full review in the next week or so.

Read about Friday's games here!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

3 Simple Rules

Summer is beginning... and that means a whole lot of folks are getting ready for church camps & retreats. What follows is an edited version of something I wrote back in 2006 that I think can be very helpful.

Retreats & camps are great things... chances to get out of the "every day grind", to draw closer to God, to strengthen relationships with other folks in the church. And they're just plain fun.

So, let me suggest three simple rules for getting the most bang for your buck/time/energy/whatever when attending a camp or retreat:

Expect something good to happen.

When we're looking for good stuff, it's easier to find it. The same is true of a retreat... when you go with a lousy attitude, convinced that you're not going to like it, you've increased your chances of missing something wonderful: a moment with God, a conversation that becomes a starting point for a lifelong friendship, laughter that lightens your soul. All too easy to miss that stuff when you're focused on what a miserable time you're having.

Expect something bad to happen.

No camp ever comes off without a hitch. Satan does not want us to see our lives through refreshed spiritual eyes, so he will be hard at work trying to sabotage what God is doing. Burned food, messed-up schedules, friction with other people, whatever... he's doing everything he can pay attention to the negative.

The cool thing about our great God is that he can take what was intended for evil and turn it for good. Moments of tension & frustration can turn into moments of holy awe, as we see Jesus drawing us together.

So in the middle of whatever screw-up that happens, ask God, "What are you doing here? I want in on it."

A retreat is a jumping off point, not a destination.

A number of churches that I've been a part of over the years forgot this... and camp/retreats/revivals became the primary point of spiritual change for most people in the congregation. We waited until we "felt" spiritual and made big, splashy commitments to follow God.

Instead, we ought to view special events (like retreats) as a jump-off point, rather than the finish line. Essentially, they act as a trail head on a spiritual journey... they get us ready to walk with God in our day-to-day lives. They  aren't an end in and of themselves.

So, whatever you learn on a retreat or camp, prepare to carry it with you back down the mountain and plant it smack dab in the middle of your everyday life.
Church is not a building. Church is not an event that takes place on Sundays… when Scripture talks about church, it means community. The little fellowships of the heart that are outposts of the kingdom. A shared life. They worship together, eat together, pray for one another, go on quests together. They hang out together, in each other's homes. 
A true community is something you'll have to fight for. You'll have to fight to get one, and you'll have to fight to keep it afloat.... You want this thing to work. You need this thing to work. You can't ditch it and jump back on the cruise ship. This is the church. (John Eldredge, Waking the Dead)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gaming Highlights: Memorial Day Weekend 2014 (Friday)

Thunder Road

Gamers have a tendency to bemoan the dreck that is often released as a movie tie-in game. (For example: I happen to think that the Congo board game is actually worse than Congo the movie, which is no mean feat, considering it has a 21% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Thunder Road is the game that SHOULD have been the Mad Max movie tie-in... it is the most family-friendly & consistently enjoyable "battle w/vehicles in a post-apocalyptic wasteland" game out there. (Car Wars & Dark Future are both classics - but they are massively fiddly and NSFNG. [Not Safe For Non-Gamers].)

It was myself,. my oldest son (Braeden), and his good friends Bryce & Rece that began racing across the wreck-strewn desert. Braeden was quickly eliminated while Bryce (the green cars in the picture) did his best to stay out of the fray. Rece & I tangled - with my final car escaping only to crash as I tried to catch up to Bryce. 

A note to fellow Thunder Road players: we've revised the recovery rule to work on double 4's through double 6's (rather than just double 6's)... it gives players a chance to get back in the game and makes for some exciting comebacks! (We've also tried with ALL doubles "healing" a vehicle, but that makes the game run on too long.)

My youngest son and I switched strategies this time around as we played one of our favorite games. Normally, I would be the one building settlements to increase production while he focused on cities & theme cards. But this time, I was the one digging for sages & groves (the Age of Sages deck from the Age of Enlightenment expansion) while Collin expanded his kingdom. 

This was possibly one of the closest fought games of this we've ever played - I edged out a 12-11 win... and together we build all the possible settlements & cities.


And the weekend was just beginning - stay tuned this week for 3 more days stuffed with gaming fun (and pictures)!

Monday, May 26, 2014

We Remember

Stephen Ambrose, writing about the the citizen soldiers who fought in World War II:
“At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn't want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.” 
And we are.

Happy Memorial Day...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spiel des Jahres: Predictions & Hopes.

Following in the virtual footsteps of our fearless leader, the illustrious Dale Yu (head dude of the Opinionated Gamers website),  I’m taking a shot at predicting the Spiel des Jahres award winners (and other nominees). I’m notoriously bad at this… but that isn’t going to stop me. (The nominees will be announced Monday, btw.)

I really have no idea about the Kinderspiel des Jahres this year… while I used to keep up pretty well with kids games, those days are gone with my boys now more into the DC Deckbuilding Game and the Lord of the Rings LCG.

Winner: Geister Geister Schatzsuchmeister (and not just because Dale’s brother, Brian Yu, designed it… it’s a really great cooperative game with gorgeous art & bits)

  • Short List: Zicke Zacke Ei Ei Ei (because who’s gonna bet against the Zoch chicken franchise?)

Dale & I agree on the eventual winner of the Spiel des Jahres… but I think he’s smoking something if Coal Baron gets nominated here rather than for KdJ.

Winner: Sanssouci (a little too light & fruffy for my tastes, but I can easily see it winning)

  • Short List: Splendor, Abluxxen (based on the reactions to them from the Gathering crowd)

The Kennerspiel des Jahres (the GamerSdJ) is where Coal Baron will show up… and, in a perfect world, win.

Winner: Coal Baron (light enough to please the jury, heavy enough for gamers to enjoy)

  • Short List: Glass Road (I think the cool mechanics will help it get a nod, despite what I felt like was lackluster gameplay), Russian Railroads (heaviest thing out there that people seem to really like)

Now, if I get to choose:

  • Kinderspiel: Geister Geister Schatzsuchmeister
  • Spiel des Jahres: Quantum
  • Kennerspiel: Coal Baron
This post originally appeared on the OG website.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Classic: Missing

On yet another occasion teaching [a class on the Gospel and culture], I presented a form of the Gospel but left out a key element to see if they would notice. I told them in advance that I was going to leave out a critical element of the Gospel, and I asked them to listen carefully to figure out the missing piece.

I told them man was sinful, and this was obvious when we looked at the culture we lived in. I pointed out specific examples of depravity, including homosexuality, abortion, drug use, song lyrics on the radio, newspaper headlines & so on. Then I told the class that man must repent, and showed them Scriptures that spoke firmly to this idea.

Then I spoke of the beauty and rewards of living a moral life. I talked about heaven and told the students how their lives could be God-honoring and God-centered. Repenting, I said, would give them a sense of purity and a feeling of fulfillment on earth.

When I was done, I rested my case and asked the class if they could tell me what I had left out of this Gospel presentation. I waited as a class of Bible college students - all of who had taken an evangelism class only weeks before in which they went door-to-door to hundreds of homes and shared their faith - sat there for several minutes in uncomfortable silence.

None of the 45 students realized I had presented a Gospel without once mentioning the name of Jesus.

The story bears repeating. I presented a Gospel to Christian Bible college students and left out Jesus. Nobody noticed, even when I said I was neglecting something important, even when I asked the class to think very hard about what I had left out, even when I stood there for five minutes in silence.

To a culture of people that believe they "go to heaven" based on whether or not they're morally pure, or that they understand some theological ideas, or that they are very spiritual, Jesus is completely unnecessary. At best, He is an afterthought, a technicality by which we become morally pure, or a subject we know about, or a founding father of our woo-woo spirituality.

I assure you, these students loved Jesus very much. It's just that when they thought of the Gospel, they thought of the message in terms of a series of thoughts or principles, not mysterious relational dynamics.
The above story comes Donald Miller's book, Searching For God Knows What, which I can't recommend highly enough.

Here's the deal... how easy is it for you to join the Bible college students in doing your best "Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel" impression? Do we see Jesus as a means to an end (moral living, deeper spirituality) or as God who wants a relationship with us? Jesus died on the cross not simply to pay off your massive sin debt... but also to pave the way for a living, breathing, grace-filled relationship with Him.

Another way to think about this... when I got in an accident during college (gotta love L.A. stop'n'go traffic), I called my dad. His first question was, "Are you OK?" Only once he knew I was safe did we start discussing the car.

When we focus all our time & energy & spiritual "oomph" on what Dallas Willard calls "the gospel of sin management", it's like we care more about the car than the person driving it. My dad was more worried about the relationship than he was about a fender-bender. We should follow the example... and spend more of ourselves in pursuing an active relationship with God than we do trying to give our lives an "extreme home makeover."

This is not easy... building a relationship takes time & energy & spiritual "oomph". And it doesn't look very church-y when you're doing it. But the goal of Christianity isn't to produce to church-y people. Instead, we want Jesus-y people, who show the evidence of spending huge parts of their life with the Living God.

Quote of the Week
Becoming a Christian might look more like falling in love than baking cookies.
     Donald Miller, Searching For God Knows What

A version of this post originally appeared in the newsletter of NewLife Community Church back in January 2006.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The City: Maybe In English, Finally...

I picked Tom Lehmann's The City as my favorite card game of 2011... with the big problem of it only being published in German.

However, a post from W. Eric Martin & BGG News today said:
In the category of "games that shoulda been", designer Tom Lehmann notes on BGG that he's recovered "most of the rights" to his 2011 card game The City and has recently spoken to a pair of (presumably U.S.) publishers about releasing the game in English. Says Lehmann: "One of the publishers wants the game expanded into a larger and different game; the other is interested in republishing it as is, but hasn't made a final decision yet. These things take time."
All I know is that a whole lot more people need to play this wonderful little game. And I'd happily buy an English edition, expanded or otherwise.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Under Construction - Watch for Falling Game Reviews!

Over the last week or so, I've been creating two new pages for this blog:
Essentially, both pages are archives of links to board game reviews I've published here on the blog over the last 9 years. 

At this point, they are unfinished - I started at the present day & have worked myself back to late 2008 so far - but there are still a bunch of reviews for you to peruse and enjoy:
  • 44 Family & Strategy Games
  • 59 Kid Games
So, you've got some reading to do... get to it, people!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Trick Plays

October 1997, Wichita, Kansas
At the start of a high school football game, the quarterback stopped barking signals, took the ball, and yelled out that he had "the wrong football." It wasn't the game ball, he said, but a practice ball. His coach called back, "Hey, I've got the right ball over here." Very calmly, the quarterback started walking over to his coach to exchange the balls. As he walked past the line of scrimmage, he took off, running full speed into the end zone. The touchdown counted.     from Spanning the World by Len Berman
Very sneaky - as a long time game player, I love it when someone uses misdirection & downright trickiness while not breaking the rules to make an amazing play. (One of the pleasures of learning a new board game is watching good players stretch the game in interesting ways.)

But that "play", such as it is, works only one time. And probably just for one team - I can imagine high school coaches all over America having nightmares about it being pulled on their team... and then lecturing their defense about "keeping your eye on the ball."

So, after the celebrating was done, the scoring team still had to kick off & defend their end zone. On the next set of offensive downs, this Kansas high school team still had to do the basics: blocking, running, passing... they had to play the rest of the game.

I think that sometimes in church we want a "trick play"... whether that is changing the name of the church or 40 Days of Purpose or "going back to the good 'ol days". We want to figure out what one event (a block party? Vacation Bible School? a capital campaign?) will kick the church into gear... what one thing will shoot us squarely into "the center of God's will."

But just like the football team, these "trick plays" are only good for one score - not for an entire game. You can't build a season on trick plays - that only happens when you play straight up football. In church terms, that only happens when the church lives out the five purposes:
  •  evangelism (we share the truth about Jesus Christ & His incredible grace)
  • discipleship (we train people to grow with God in every area of their lives)
  • fellowship (we build an authentic community of Christ followers that is more than just a club for people not going to hell)
  • ministry (we serve people inside and outside the church)
  • worship (we point to the goodness & greatness of God 24/7 with our praise & service)

No surprise here, but that's true for individuals as well. 

The main reason churches have a "trick play" mentality is that each of us secretly longs for one event (Promise Keepers? Women of Faith? Passion? a revival service? a retreat?) to "fix" everything in our hearts & minds, rather than trusting what God said in Philippians 1:6 (NLT):
I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.
No matter how long it takes - or what we have to go through to get there. He's going to CONTINUE working... which implies that "winning the game" of the Christian life is a process, not an event.

So, enjoy the trick plays - they're a hoot - but remember that you and me and the churches we're a part of have to do this thing 10 yards at a time. And we've got a Coach who won't stop until we've won.

A version of this post originally appeared in The Grapevine of NewLife Community Church back in November of 2005.